Parliamentary system

From Academic Kids

A parliamentary system, or parliamentarism, is distinguished by the executive branch of government being dependent on the direct or indirect support of the legeslative branch, or parliament, often expressed through a vote of confidence. Hence, there is no clear-cut separation of powers between the executive and legeslative branches, leading to criticism from some that they lack checks and balances found in a presidential republic. Parliamentarism is praised, relative to presidentialism, for its flexibility and responsiveness to the public. It is faulted for its tendency to sometimes lead to unstable governments, as in the German Weimar Republic and the French Fourth Republic. Parliamentary systems usually have a clear differentiation between the head of government and the head of state, with the head of of government being the prime minister or premier, and the head of state often being an appointed figurehead with only minor or ceremonial powers. However, some parliamentary systems also have an elected president with many reserve powers as a the head of government, providing some balance to these systems. The term parliamentary system does not mean that a country is ruled by different parties in coalition with each other. Such multi-party arrangements are usually the product of an electoral system known as proportional representation. Parliamentary nations that use first past the post voting usually have governments composed of one party. The United Kingdom, for instance, has not had a coalition government since World War II. However, parliamentary systems of continental Europe do use proportional representation, and it seems that PR voting systems and coalition governments usually go together. This system may also be heeded for governance in local governments. An example is the city of Oslo, which has an executive council as part of a parliamentary system.



Main Article: History of Parliamentarism

The modern parliamentary system has its roots in the Roman Republic's senate, which was essentially a ruling council made up of the elite of society. Even after the Republic became the Roman Empire, the senate still had immense influence and power. However, as time went on, the autocratic nature of later emperors eventually reduced the senate's prestige and power, and ushered in centuries of relative autocratic rule by monarchs. Under feudalism in the Middle Ages, all members of a kingdom were technically under the protection of a ruling monarch (and the Church), who gave land to nobles in exchange for support. However, nobles would occasionally challenge the ruling monarch (as would the Church). Under the customs of Feudalism, groups of nobles would meet to decide on whether they would support the monarch on important issues. These groups sometimes clashed with the autocratic nature of some monarchs. The most important clash, in the evolution of the nation state and Constitutional rule of law, came with Magna Carta of 1215—it was the first true challenge to the unrestrained powers of a king, attempting to constitutionally limit King John after he commited a series of debacles. The kingdom of England had become too big, the groups of nobles believed, for any one man as crazy as John to make grievious and poor decisions over. The statements made by Magna Carta were a direct challange to the Divine Right of Kings, a philosophy held by convention at the time, and lead to many civil wars, perhaps the most famous of which was the English Civil War.

Parliaments throughout Europe systematically replaced the powers of the monarch, often holding complete financial control of the state. In many cases the monarchs finally signed over all actual power, and became ceremonial figureheads. In others, the entire monarchy fell, and were replaced by the parliaments. As time went on, most states began to give sufferage to decide the makeup of the parliament, often with two houses. One was hereditary and made up of nobles, and the other made up of elected officials, for example the House of Lords and House of Commons in the United Kingdom. Initially, the house of the elite, or upper house, held most of the power, but most parliaments now invest almost complete power in the elected or lower house. Some parliaments have abolished the upper house completely, while others have altered them to be elected as well. Ironically, the parliamentary system has come full circle from it's ancient beginnings.

The features of a parliamentary system

The executive is typically a cabinet, and headed by a prime minister who is considered the head of government, but parliamentarism has also been practised with privy councils and the Senate of Finland. The prime minister and the ministers of the cabinet typically have their background in the parliament and may remain members thereof while serving in cabinet. The leader of the leading party, or group of parties, in the parliament is often appointed as the prime minister. In many countries, the cabinet, or single members thereof, can be removed by the parliament through a vote of no confidence. In addition, the executive can often dissolve the parliament and call extra-ordinary elections. Under the parliamentary system the roles of head of state and head of government are more or less separated. In most parliamentary systems, the head of state is primarily a ceremonial position, often a monarch or president, retaining duties that aren't politically divisive, such as appointments of civil service. In many parliamentary systems, the head of state may have reserve powers which are usable in a crisis. In most cases however, such powers are (either by convention or by constitutional rule) only exercised upon the advice and approval of the head of government.

Because the executive is directly related to the legislature, some argue the executive is actually more accountable than many fixed term presidential systems, as the executive, being linked to the legislative, can face an early election in the face of the aforementioned 'vote of confidence'. In addition, because the executive is ussually part of the legislature, they often face more direct questioning by opposition politicians as members of that legislature. In a presidential system, the legislative branch usually has few chances to directly question the president. It can also be argued that it's relatively easier to pass legislation within a parliamentary system, since the executive and legislative branches are more dependent on each other than in a system with a completely separated executive. Within presidential systems, the executive is often chosen independently from the legislature. If the executive is of a different party from those leading the legislature, then stalemate can occur.

Parliamentary systems vary as to the degree to which they have a formal written constitution and the degree to which that constitution describes the day to day working of the government. Also, depending upon the voting system, they vary as to the number of parties within the system and the dynamics between the parties. Relations between the central government and local governments vary in parliamentary systems; they may be federal or unitary states.

Advantages of a parliamentary system

It could be argued that a parliamentary system is more accountable than a presidential system, since power is not divided. In a parliamentary system, it is easier for voters to tell who is responsible for inaction than in a presidential system. Also, in a parliamentary system chief executive (or prime minister) is often questioned by the legislature. Such a procedure would ensure that the chief executive is held to account and would act as a check on his power.

Some believe that it is easier to pass legislation within a parliamentary system. This is because the executive branch is dependent upon the direct or indirect support of the legislative branch and is often comprised of members of the legislature. In a presidential system, the executive is often chosen independently from the legislature. If the executive and legislature in such a system are comprised of members from differing political parties, then stalemate can occur.

In the English Constitution, Walter Bagehot praised parliamentarism for producing serious debates, for allowing the change in power without an election, and for allowing elections at any time. Bagehot considered the four-year election rule of the United States to be unnatural.

There is also a body of scholarship, associated with Juan Linz, Fred Riggs, and others that claims that parliamentarism is less prone to authoritarian collapse. These scholars point out that since World War II, two-thirds of Third World nations establishing parliamentary governments successfully transitioned to democracy. By contrast, no Third World presidential system successfully transitioned to democracy without experiencing coups and other constitutional breakdowns.

Criticisms of parliamentarism

A main criticism of many parlimentary systems is that the head of government cannot be directly voted on. In a presidential system, the president is directly chosen by the people, but in a parliamentary system the prime minister is elected by the party leadership.

Another major criticism comes from the relationship between the executive and legislative branches. Because there is a lack of obvious separation of power, some believe that a parliamentary system can place too much power in the executive entity, leading to the feeling that the legislature or judiciary have little scope to administer checks or balances on the executive.

Parliamentary systems are sometimes accused of being unstable. Criticis point to Israel, Italy, the French Fourth Republic, and Weimar Germany as examples of parliamentary systems where no confidence votes, and threats of no confidence votes, make effective governance impossible.

On the other hand, parliamentarism can also display characteristics of dominant party systems, that is, while the nation is democratic, only one party has a realistic chance of winning. For instance, in Japan, the Liberal Democratic Party has ruled almost continuously since World War II. In Canada, the Liberal Party has likewise ruled with few interruptions.

Although Walter Bagehot praised parliamentarism for allowing an election to take place at any time, the lack of a definite election calendar can be abused. A ruling party can schedule elections when it feels that it is likely to do well. It can avoid elections at times of unpopularity. Thus, by wise timing of elections, in a parliamentary system a party can extend its mandate for longer than is feasible in a functioning presidential system.

Countries with a parliamentary system of government

See also

de:Parlamentarisches Regierungssystem nl:Parlementair systeem ja:議院内閣制 no:Parlamentarisme pl:System parlamentarno-gabinetowy pt:Parlamentarismo sv:Parlamentarism zh:议会民主制


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